“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere” -Martin Luther King Jr
Despite this quote being written back in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights movement, it has recently become increasingly relevant once again as the similar Black Lives Matter movement reaches new heights. The aim of these movements is to target and put an end to the injustice faced by the black community in different areas of daily life, including the sports industry. While many sports, such as basketball and football, seem to be very inclusive, one sport league in particular seems to stand out against all the rest: the NHL.
The History to Current Day
It’s no question that the NHL has had its fair share of problems, from players yelling racial slurs to management positions being visibly dominated by white males. These racially based issues are not new to the NHL, however, and date back to when the league was first established.
The NHL was established in 1917 and remained predominantly white for 41 years until Willie O’Ree, the first black player, debuted for the Boston Bruins in 1958. O’Ree broke barriers for the NHL and helped pave the way for current black players within the league. Despite this great feat, the bigoted, racially based slurs came full force at O’Ree during his time in the league.
“Every time I went to the ice I was faced with racial slurs because of my color and my brother taught me names will never hurt you unless you let them. I had black cats thrown on the ice and told me to back to the cotton fields and pick cotton”
Unfortunately, this mindset among many NHL fans, and even players, has yet to stop. In his groundbreaking article, Akim Aliu depicts the horrors he had to face as a young, black teenager trying to make his way to the NHL. Aliu recounts the racial slurs thrown at him from teammates, coaches, and fans, the humiliating acts he was forced into by teammates, and the dehumanization endured as those around him fixated on his skin color above anything else.
Within his article, Aliu touched on another incident that recently occured: young K’Andre Miller repeatedly being called the n-word after someone had hacked a live Q&A zoom call. The New York Rangers gave a brief statement on the matter, and that was the end of it.
With this, Aliu not only brings attention to the discrimination faced by him and many others, but ultimately calls out the irony of the NHL’s beloved phrase: “Hockey is for everyone”.
The NHL loves to throw this phrase around during pride nights, but that’s seemingly the end of it. This is because truthfully, as Aliu states, hockey is not for everyone.
Currently, in the 700 player league, there are 43 people of color. This means that 93% of players in the NHL are white. In comparison to other major sports leagues, this number is incredibly high. The percentage of white people in these other leagues include: 23.3% in the NBA, 28.9% in the NFL, and 63.7% in the MLB. It’s obvious that the NHL dominates as the “white male” sports league when looking at these other numbers.
Similarly, in the 2019 NHL draft, not one person of color was drafted in the first round. All draftees were young, white players drafted from varying minor leagues that are predominantly white as well.
These statistics are due to an abundance of factors from blatant racism to the cost of playing hockey at a young age. Statistically, black people have an average annual income of approximately $40,165 while white people have an average annual income of approximately $65,845. This immediately gives white people an advantage over their black counterparts, as they are able to afford higher quality equipment and trainers, as well as afford the ability to play on high ranking travel teams that increase exposure and pave a smoother way to the minor and major league.
The odds are not just stacked against black players, but any person of color looking to be in a management or broadcasting position. Currently, all NHL head coaches are white, and so are most broadcasters.
Be the Change
While racism might not be as prominent and raging as it has been in the past, there is still a lot of work to do. And it begins by taking a step back and looking at it from different points of view. Many people will preach to “keep politics out of sports”, without realizing that it’s critical to have these discussions within the sports industry in order to help diminish racism as a whole.
It starts by integrating the anti-racist mindset in daily aspects of life. It starts by demanding that racist behavior in sports is unacceptable. It starts by giving a more harsh punishment than a simple two sentence statement and a slap on the wrist. It starts by not allowing the offender to continue to play in the league. It starts by creating a safer environment among the fans and in the locker room.
Put meaning behind the statement “Hockey is for everyone”.
Because it never has been.